Teaching is not about having the answers, it’s about having the questions

This is what I woke up to. This is my seven year old. It is 6am.

Me: “What are you doing Zephaniah?”

Z: “I am making potions.”

Me: “Cool. Where are all those bottles from?”

Z: “From under the sink.”

Me:”Do you know what they are?”

Z: “No. “

Me: “Do you think any of them could be dangerous?”

Z: “Which kind of dangerous?”

A great question, I thought. We then went on a exploration of Hazchem symbols and talked about being toxic, explosive, corrosive and discussed volatile organic compounds. He liked the symbols of the bottles, as he hates reading. He was upset to discover that some were poisonous to wildlife.

I then pointed him to a food drawer. You can use anything you like from here. I explained. He and his brother played with bicarbonate of soda, fizzy tonic water, food dye, flour, yogurt. I gave them some Calpol syringes and eye goggles from a wood work set they had from Santa. They squealed with delight at it bubbling over and changing colour, and becoming thicker. This went on for over an hour.

“What did you do at school yesterday?” I asked casually. “I played computer games in the inclusion room and I did a bit of maths.” I sighed.

People often are curious what we do on our home school days. The answer is, all kinds of mad and unpredictable stuff. “How do you know how to teach chemistry? I would be scarred I was not covering the right stuff or telling them something wrong.” I have had this a load of times. The problem with education is to me a really simple one. We have stopped thinking of kids as just smaller adults. They are still people, and there is not fixed amount of knowledge they absolutely have to have in their heads in order to be functional and happy adults. If you want categoric evidence of this, central government change the primary syllabus every year so it can’t be formulaic.

Octopus dissection.

If you were at work and you did not know the answer to a problem or question, what would you do? You would probably google it. Or ask someone who has the knowledge, or go to a library. Teaching is exactly the same. Even teaching my specialist subject which I have been doing for a million years (well sometimes it feels like that) I do not know that answer to every question students might ask me. And it is only a good teacher who is willing to admit that to their class.

Students are not vessels which we pour our knowledge into. This would be a fixed and static thing. Students are the drivers of a mad space rocket and we are merely passengers. Our job is to make sure they don’t crash and die, or get completely lost. And if we have done our job, they should be much better drivers than we ever were. The student should and must excel the teacher. This is how humanity drives forward.

What is “Child led learning”? You would think the answer is obvious. Last Friday I took Zephaniah for his home school session. I asked his teacher what their topic was for the term: South America. Interesting, since he had thought “it was to do with planets and stuff.” Zephaniah had been really interested in a story I was telling him earlier in the week about a Phoenix. While I made lunch, he watched a short documentary about animals in South America. We then went down to the city farm and fed the goats and sheep and pigs and he noticed how llamas are not that different to sheep. We then picked his brother up and went to a small shop run by a Venuzulean family. The man there showed us his empanadas and churros and we discovered some interesting Argentinian sweets. We brought some home. Zeph and I made a collage of a Phoenix and then researched and compared South American mythical creatures with British ones. He made this …. wall hanging?!? Possibly more achieved in 6 hours than 6 weeks of school. This is child led learning. It is experiential, hands on, negotiated, fun and memorable. It involved: English, ICT, Citzenship, Geography, RS, Art, DT, Food, Science (biology) And languages. It didn’t involve a work sheet from twinkle.

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